Students, depression and Faith

By: Wali Ejaz Nekokara

A prominent writer Muhammad Asad writes at the beginning of his book “Islam at Crossroads” that “Seldom was mankind as intellectually restless as it is in our time”. Words of Muhammad Asad can serve my purpose in this article but I have to make a slight change. I would say that ‘Seldom was mankind as psychologically and spiritually restless as it is in our time’. Unfortunately, all and sundry are falling prey to depression. As society is rapidly marching towards materialism, issues like confusion, depression, and spiritual restlessness are getting currency. As a whilom student of Quaid I Azam University, I had to fulfill all requirements to get a degree certificate that is why I stayed in university for two weeks. During my stay, I saw more than five cases of depression in my juniors. One of them even tried to commit suicide by wrist-cutting but luckily, he survived. It was painful to know that all these depressed students had the same reason for depression; girlfriend. Two of them said that we cannot bear to see their former girlfriends with someone else. As far as girlfriend/boyfriend relations are concerned, social experience indicates a prevailing myth among the youngsters that gf/bf plays an important role in emotional and mental stability. I remember, once I asked this question to a clinical psychologist Dr. Saadia Nazir Tazeem to get a psychological perspective about this myth. She outright rejected the myth and told that it has nothing to do with stability rather it paves way for mental instability. She discouraged such kind of useless relationships due to the devastating impacts they can have on students. 

Palpably, these fake relationships are a big source of restlessness, insufficient sleep, and depression in both genders. Girls are also implicated in drugs consumption and have suicidal tendencies due to breakups. They are also facing severe depression. Gf/Bf relations have appeared as an emerging reason for mental instability and depression. Furthermore, if we see other reasons for depression among students then gf/bf-related issues seem like the tip of the iceberg. Various studies point out rising cases of suicide among students, their causes, and ways to commit suicide. Assistant Professor Humanities Dr. Muneeba Shakil from COMSATS University conducted a retrospective study by retrieving 68 cases from 11 newspapers which cover the period of 8 years from 2010 to 2017. Her study “A Qualitative Analysis of suicides Committed by the students in Pakistan” shows that in male students, the suicide rate was 76.5% in comparison with 23.5% in female students. The ratio in schools was 42.6%, 23.5% in colleges, and 22.1% cases were from universities. In methods of suicide, 33.8% of students chose hanging, 27.9% gunshot, 13.2% poison, 5.9% jumping from a height, 4.4% burn, and 1.5% wrist-cutting. In provincial terms, Punjab was at the top of the list by getting 52.9% share of cases, secondly, 23.6% cases were reported in Sindh and 8.9% in KPK. In the list of reasons, 23.4% cases were related to failure in exams, in11.8% cases, parents scolded children, in 8.8% cases failure in love was the reason, 5.9% cases happened due to domestic issues, life dissatisfaction added to cases by 4.4%, poverty by 1.9%, teachers’ unjust behavior by 5.9% and raging by 2.9%. These facts are sobering reminders of dangers and challenges to Students’ mental health. 

In my opinion, all the above-mentioned reasons and causes of depression are of secondary importance and the only primary reason is de-emphasizing faith. Weakness of faith triggers many psychological disorders. Unfortunately, in this modern age challenging God and emphasizing atheism has almost become a standard of intellectuality. One of the things which define us is the literature we study. Students read non-Muslim philosophers like Bertrand Russel and accept their views as truth. Bertrand Russel is a prominent name among philosophers and atheists. Maulana Wahiddudin Khan writes about Bertrand Russel in his book “Khuda ki daryaft” that ‘despite spending a considerable part of his life in studying, Russel could not find the truth’. Maulana quotes a passage from Autobiography of Bertrand Russel,

Mr. Russel writes that “When I survey my life, it seems to me to be a useless one, devoted to impossible ideals. My activities continue from the force of habit, and in the company of others, I forget the despair which underlies my daily pursuits and pleasure. But when I am alone and idle, I cannot conceal for myself that my life has no purpose and that I know of no new purpose to which to devote my remaining years. I find myself involved in a vast mist of solitude both emotional and metaphysical, from which I can find no issue”. 

This passage is enough to gauge purposelessness, frustration, and disappointment in Russel’s life. Students having little intellectual maturity can easily be influenced by atheistic personalities and literature. Atheism is a leading cause of pessimism, hollowness, and restlessness in students. Students must be optimistic and they must read writers like Allama Muhammad Iqbal, Hazrat Wasif Ali Wasif, Professor Ahmad Rafique Akhtar, Maurice Bucaille, Allama Muhammad Asad and Maulana Wahiddudin Khan. 

One of the most important issues is that we have forgotten that we are spiritual beings also. Allah has installed spiritual software in every human. Spiritual health and psychology have a deep relation. Dr. Aisha Utz writes in her book “Psychology; the Islamic perspective” that “Islamic theory of mental illness emphasizes the concept of spiritual disease or death. Many of today’s mental illnesses most likely have their roots in this phenomenon. The soul is calling out in distress for its spiritual needs but the call is not being answered”. This is what Quran says that:

“And whoever turns away from my remembrance – Indeed, he will have a depressed (Difficult) life and we will raise him on the day of Resurrection blind”. (Quran 20:124)

Spiritual health determines the quality of faith and faith defines psychology. Spiritual health can only be maintained through God’s proximity. A mind free of God-consciousness and a heart free of faith is a recipe for distortion. Faith has the power to break the shackles of depression and confusion. People having faith are unlikely to commit suicide and their recovery period is shorter than others. Faith builds character and it helps to ward off psychological disorders. The cure of depressed students and people lies more in the Islamic concept of psychology instead of contemporary Psychology. It would be pertinent to highlight the difference between Contemporary psychology and Islamic Psychology. The main difference is that soul has significant importance in Islamic psychology but the soul has no place in contemporary Psychology. Ironically, the origin of the word ‘psychology’ suggests the study of the soul. If modern Psychology does not consider the soul, it means it is incomplete psychology. The perspective Islam presents is complete and comprehensive. Similarly, the Islamic approach to psychotherapy is more beneficial than any other way. In chapter 15 “Counselling and Psychotherapy” of her book, Dr. Aisa Utz quotes Mr. Jafari who has highlighted the effectiveness of Islamic psychotherapy,”. He maintains that Islamic Psychotherapy instills righteous benevolence, spiritual and materialistic balance, the sense of right and wrong, and Repentance. On the other hand, Western counseling teaches a self-fulfilling lifestyle, materialism, unlimited freedom, and guilt realization.                                            

At the end of the article, I would suggest some important steps to improve students’ mental health. First of all, psychological centers must be set up in educational institutions in which faith-based therapies will be given to students. Realizing students of the importance and effectiveness of faith is the need of the hour. Secondly, courses like The importance of faith, Islamic psychology and its efficacy, Islam and westernization, Islam and modernization must be incorporated to teach students about their unique culture and powerful ideology of Islam. Thirdly, it is the foremost duty of parents to teach their children to hold faith because it will make them strong and will keep them away from wrongdoings. Parents must have a friendly relation with children and must take care of children’s emotional health. Fourthly, teachers’ role can be decisive, teachers must listen to the students’ issues and should work for students’ moral development. Fifthly, the absence of a goal in life is adding to the conundrum. There will be a very little ratio of students who have any goal. Career Counselling is mandatory to apprise students of their potentials. Knowing oneself can help students to use their energies in the right direction. Sixthly, educational institutions especially universities are playing a very little role in producing productive citizens. Character-building should be the top priority of the university. In this dimension, courses akin to ethics and human development can play an important role. last but not least is that Student Unions can play an imperative role to help depressed students by bringing them to psychologists and therapists.  

The writer is an Independent Researcher and a Freelance contributor. He can be reached at [email protected]